| A demonstrator holds an anti-war poster during a protest march in Marseille. (Reuters)
Washington/Baghdad, Jan. 18 (Reuters): Activists poured onto the streets around the world today in mass protests against an attack on Iraq as UN arms chiefs headed to Baghdad to tell its leaders cooperation was the only way to avoid war.
With Washington massing troops and equipment in the Gulf and Baghdad declaring itself mobilised for battle, tens of thousands of demonstrators in Europe, West Asia, Asia and the Americas beat drums, clogged traffic and chanted slogans denouncing a US-led war on Iraq.
“There’s been too much capital invested in this war for it not to happen. But we’re making our position clear, we’re saying ‘no’. There are people speaking out on this all over the world now, and we’re part of it,” said Adam Conway, 24, an activist living at a peace camp near Shannon Airport in Ireland.
US President George W. Bush has said he will lead a “coalition of the willing” to force Iraq to give up its alleged weapons of mass destruction if Baghdad does not cooperate with UN arms inspectors.
US secretary of state Colin Powell told a German daily this week that Washington believed there would be “a persuasive case” by the end of January that Iraq was not cooperating.
The White House has also seized on the discovery of empty chemical warheads in Iraq as evidence of non-compliance, calling the weapons cache “serious and troubling”, though UN weapons chief Hans Blix played down the significance of the find.
Pleading for the White House to back down and let inspections run their course, up to 100,000 people were expected to protest in Washington and San Francisco in the largest anti-war demonstrations since Bush began making a case against Iraq last year.
“Bush has said that he intends to launch a pre-emptive war, and now he’s facing the most formidable obstacle, which is a pre-emptive anti-war movement,” said Washington lawyer Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, who is helping to organise the protests.
In West Asia, the protests sounded a more ominous note as thousands of demonstrators in Beirut carrying Palestinian and Iraqi flags chanted: “Sign your name on a suicide attack on US interests, so we can fight an American attack along with Iraq.”
The maverick British politician George Galloway, who joined the march, said: “A peaceful solution must be found, or we’re all going over the cliff in West Asia and all of us will be damaged in the fall.”